Dublin café pays tribute to 'most loyal' customer on his 90th birthday

By Kim oLeary

Dublin’s most famous café recently paid a touching tribute to its most loyal customer to mark his 90th birthday.

Bewley’s of Grafton Street honoured record-breaking Denis Shields who recently turned 90 an incredible 59 years after he ordered his first coffee in 1962.

In the years since his first visit, Bewley's estimates that Denis has enjoyed over 30,000 cups and tucked into countless cherry buns on his daily visits.

“This feels like a walk through history, a moment that will live with me until I go to the grave,” said Denis, who is originally from a large farming family in Banagher, Co Offaly.

According to Denis, he has powerful memories of the café and he met "many good friends" there.

On Saturday, more than three generations of the Shields family shared a Bewley’s birthday cake served by three generations of the Campbell family, Paddy, son Cól and grandson Felix, in Grafton Street.

Denis' long relationship with Bewley’s began in 1962 – the same year the Cuban missile crisis placed the world on the brink of nuclear war, The Beatles released their first single and Marilyn Monroe was found dead at the age of 36.

Denis moved to the capital in 1962 after securing a job in the bedding department of Clerys.

He was strolling to Bewley’s in Westmoreland Street for daily coffee before making the Grafton Street café his second home.

“It all started on the first morning I was in town. I went into Westmoreland Street at 7.30am," explained Denis.

“I always spoke to people, I always said ‘good morning’ or ‘good luck’, some would talk to you and others wouldn’t reply. I loved a latte and sometimes I’d take a bun with it. The staff would see me coming and they’d be getting it ready."

According to Denis, while people are rushing around more than ever, Bewley's has remained the same almost 60 years later.

He said: “But Bewley’s is a marvellous place, it is where the generations intersect and its standards have never dropped.

“It has an atmosphere which is second to none and the staff and the Campbell family always got on so well together.

“I got to know Paddy Campbell very quickly because he would sit down and talk to me as though I were a director of the firm.”

And while the Dublin café provided him with a sanctuary every day of his working life, it was also in his prayers.

Denis lit candles and prayed for the staff when it closed for major renovations in 2015, he was first through the doors when it re-opened in November 2017.

GAA-fanatic Denis kept up his daily trips to his favourite cafe until recently, when he moved into a south Dublin nursing home.

“It’s quite extraordinary that he’s been coming here for almost 60 years, virtually every day, and he is great company, a great character,” said Paddy Campbell.

He said the café’s inclusive ethos meant it always attracted new generations of customers, regardless of their background.

“Bewley’s belongs to everyone, the kids, babies, older people, we accept everyone who comes in.

“The only reason it will survive will be because of its customers. It’s the regulars who will keep the place in Grafton Street and Denis is a great example of a person who knows and treasures the café.

“He just kept coming back to us and it’s thanks to people like him that we’ll be here for many years to come.”

In 1990, after almost three decades of visiting Bewley's, Paddy asked a friend to complete a bronze sculpture of Denis – which is still proudly displayed at its Grafton Street premises.

Bewley's on Grafton Street reopened last month after it was closed for three months during the Covid-19 pandemic.

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